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History & Styles

    Over the past thirty eight years, I have searched for more information on the history of trunks and for accurate information about trunk styles. From a variety of sources and countless hours of research, I have obtained a number of historical documents which have answered many questions and provided an excellent true source of information on trunks. These include newspapers, trunk maker's catalogs, letterhead and invoices, business cards, books, articles, and of course trunk labels and trunks. On the Research page I am offering copies of several of these interesting and unique items for sale.

    Trunks were made in a large variety of shapes and sizes and from many materials and date back to pre-medieval times. Here is a very brief summary of a few of the trunk styles made in the United States from the late 1700's.
    The earliest trunks made in America were rather primitive and date to the late 1700s. They were made of various woods and covered with hides such as deer, seal skin, horse, or cowhide. By the early 1800s the hide covered trunks continued and became a little more ornamented with handmade brass tacks, forged iron locks and handles and leather trim. These were made in flat top and rounded top styles. In the late 1700s and early 1800s round trunks became popular. Looking at them from the end they appear round, with a small flat base. They were covered in leather and hide and usually ornamented with brass tacks. They were lined with a printed paper or often old newspapers. They sometimes were made with a small brass handle on top and were made in many sizes. A couple nice examples are at Mount Vernon, owned by George and Martha Washington.
    In the late 1840s and 1850s leather covered trunks were popular with iron bands and large brass "studs" or "buttons". Some people referred to these as "gold rush trunks" with the large brass studs symbolizing large gold nuggets.
    As people moved westward and railroads were built, the demand for trunks increased. Both flat and round top trunks were being made during the mid 1800s. Small square shaped "hat trunks" were also made of the same style with brass trimmings. In 1850, Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightingale" came to America and had a two year concert tour arranged by P.T. Barnum. Over the years her name came to be associated with a certain style of trunk with a unique shape, now called Jenny Lind trunks. (There is NO evidence that this style was ever made in England as some have said.) They were leather covered, or sole leather, with several iron bands around the trunk, fastened with large brass studs, and they curved in at the center. Some people say they look like a loaf of bread or figure eight. These trunks were often very decorative with brass locks, fancy tooled leather and elaborate interiors with paper lining and trimmings. Models made with brass banding are referred to as "brass bound" Jenny Linds. They were so popular that the style continued until about 1870 in many sizes and varieties, including doll trunks. Some also refer to these trunks as "stagecoach" trunks as they were also used for stagecoach travel.

Jenny Lind
circa 1860

Saratoga Trunk
circa 1885

    Another trunk style which developed in the mid 1800's was the Saratoga Trunk. The name started based on large trunks used by the wealthier people visiting the spa resort and racetrack at Saratoga Springs, New York. The Saratoga Trunk evolved into a very large, round top style with fancy trim, covered in either leather, canvas, or metal. Early trunk catalogs and ads describe Saratoga trunks as a "large round top of the highest class". Round top and barrel top trunks were made in a wide range of sizes and coverings. The names "dome top, camelback, and hump back" were not used by trunk makers or in their catalogs, but Round Top and Barrel Top were often used.

     In the early 1880s another trunk style developed for steamship travel, called the Steamer trunk, which was a low, flat top trunk, only up to 14 inches tall. Large and tall trunks for clothes and shoe storage were Wardrobe trunks, most containing hangers and drawers. Large flat top trunks with drawers were known as Bureau or Dresser trunks. Rare versions have been found with round tops and with interiors resembling desks, with fold down front sections. Small square shaped trunks were made especially for carrying hats and many other special purpose trunks were produced from about 1880 to the 1920s. Trunks were made for the circus, for salesmen, musical instruments, tools, and many other purposes.

    Many of these unusual trunks are illustrated in early catalogs, copies available for sale on the Research page.

Bureau Trunk circa 1890

    Exceptional Jenny Lind Trunk, Ca. 1860
This fabulous Jenny Lind trunk with graceful curves, from the 1860s period still has it's original tray and inner lid compartment with leather pocket, over 50 large brass "buttons", brass lock, and is in wonderful restored condition. This is a 6 band trunk, which is rare to find, but has even more to offer, including the original folk art paper design work on the tray and top section! (see pictures). The brass buttons are all original and all metal trim and hardware are original. The dark wood (color of cherry or walnut) has been carefully refinished with a satin tung oil finish. Leather handles have been replaced like the originals. The bottom is in excellent condition and with the original small rollers. The interior has been relined with nice fabric to coordinate with the folk art paper designs. The trunk measures 27" wide by 16" tall by 16" deep. The thick hardwood trunk has no cracks or replaced wood! The lock is original but no key is available. The inner lid storage compartment had a fold down door, with the original red leather keepsake pocket on it. This is truly an exceptional and rare trunk, a real collector's item.


    Ladies Barrel Top Trunk Circa 1869
This beautiful antique trunk is circa 1869 - 1870 and has some rather rare features. This style trunk was often referred to as a Barrel Stave Top or sometimes a Saratoga Trunk and is ornate and very well made. A Saratoga trunk was basically a large, high quality, fancy round top trunk. They originally got their name from ladies needing large trunks to hold lots of clothing, hats, etc. for their extended trips to Saratoga Springs, NY, a very popular resort town from the mid 1800s and later. I know this one is from about 1869 to 1870 due to the lock and hardware style. The solid brass lock was made by Keystone Lock Works of Philadelphia and patented in 1868, and is stamped with the name and patent date. The solid brass latches and bottom corner bumpers are extremely rare and the only ones of this style that I have ever seen in over 40 years of trunk restoration. The latches have a fleur-de-lis design on them and are an unusual design. Solid brass hardware on trunks is actually fairly rare to find and was only used on high grade items. Later in the mid-1890's brass plated hardware was used on trunks of many types. The trunk was originally covered with leather, which had to be removed due to the condition, but the thick wood is beautiful and in excellent condition. It is hand finished with a satin tung oil varnish which will preserve the trunk for another 100 years at least. The trunk is made of thick pine with hardwood, probably elm, outer slats. The hardware is all original and very strong. The handles are thick multi-layer custom made handles in the early style. The interior was carefully cleaned out and relined with a nice old fashion toile fabric. The lift out tray was made to duplicate the original style, with the covered hat compartment, complete with Victorian style chromolithograph and fancy trim.



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